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Monday, April 24, 2017, 6:07 p.m.

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OPINION — Editorial

To sue or not to sue?

Drugmakers’ dilemma mirrors the state’s

This article was published April 21, 2017 at 2:25 a.m.

The practice of medicine can look like an extension of pharmacology at times. Questions about the link between the two have arisen, but there are no sure answers. The drugmakers seem as bewitched, bothered and bewildered as the rest of Arkansas and maybe the rest of the country as the supposedly sovereign state of Arkansas seeks to keep the condemned men on Death Row alive enough and conscious enough to be put to death. What an upside-down, inside-out and mixed-up world.

This is a question of life and death, but the state's judicial system has succeeded in reducing it to tragicomedy. For connoisseurs of irony the news of late out of Arkansas, bloody Arkansas, has been a veritable banquet. First the befuddled drugmakers got a restraining order against the state's use of their drugs to take life instead of preserving it. Then the drugmakers withdrew their lawsuit against the state on the grounds that a judge stopped the executions. Until that judge herself was overturned. Then another judge stepped in. Then the state's highest court ruled again. Around we go.

The drugmakers have said the state obtained their product under false pretenses. But this is more than a case of seller's remorse. And if Gentle Reader is having a problem following all these twists and turns, imagine the challenges facing all the lawyers, prosecutors, judges and justices these days. And the condemned on Death Row.

One of the drugmakers, McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc., claims the state got its hands on one of the corporation's many products in a sneaky manner. That would be a reference to vecuronium bromide, one of the components of the fatal cocktail used to execute convicts in Arkansas. But that's not the only drug this corporation sells the state, for it's done millions of dollars' worth of business here by marketing its wares to the state's prison system and other operations. No doubt about it, both science and law have come a fir piece since poor Socrates had to settle for just a cup of hemlock.

How begin this tale of mixed-up motives and ironic twists, and how end it? Because this story is likely to enjoy a longer run than Witness for the Prosecution on the Broadway stage. But with fatal results offstage in real life. And real death. And there's no sign of a Marlene Dietrich to give it a romantic touch. For there's little romance to the three drugs used to kill prisoners here in Arkansas--one to sedate the victim, one to paralyze him, and then one to stop his heart.

Arkansas' governor and therefore chief executive, the Hon. Asa Hutchinson, would indeed execute prisoner after prisoner after prisoner ... if only he could find a way to do it that the law in its majesty would allow. For state law declares that capital punishment is not to be considered a "legitimate medical purpose." According to the drug company's complaint, someone with this state's Department of Correction "misled a McKesson employee into processing the order over the phone." And the order "violates Arkansas law" rather than fulfilling it.

For that matter, the very name of the state agency involved in this tragicomic case, the Department of Correction, would seem to be a misnomer. How correct a man once he's put to death? Innocent Reader might have thought that was the function of purgatory, not of any agency in this world. Maybe the best tour of the prison system should be conducted by a poet like Dante Alighieri instead of some warder of the state.

It would make a fine place to study law, Death Row, for there would be no distractions and plenty of time to pore over the law books so long as it wouldn't be cut short by one's execution. And there's also the consolation of being assured that there is indeed a life after death. It's called litigation and, like hell, may be endless.

So where are we now? As this editorial was going to bed, the executions were put off, put on again, and who knows what the last ruling was at midnight last night. Did the United States Supreme Court step in? Was the state Supreme Court the last word? One of the two men scheduled to die last night supposedly had his case extended. That is, unless another court ruled that his execution could go on without interruption. Another condemned man wasn't so lucky.

Were questions about the drug enough to persuade any court--in Little Rock, Washington, or in-between--that more questions should be asked and answered before the Final Verdict? Or did the state, aka We the People, follow through and meet its deadline? Emphasis on dead.

For the answer to those questions, Gentle Reader will have to turn to today's Front Page.

Editorial on 04/21/2017

Print Headline: To sue or not to sue?

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